Tag Archives: education

Your Parenting Goal

In college I was forced to take a class on leadership–I didn’t want to take it, I hated it while I was in it, and it has turned out to be the most useful class I took out of all 40-50 formal classes I was in during those four years. One thing I took away from that class is the importance of setting and meeting goals in all areas of life. Parenting is no exception!

Small child or international basketball superstar in training?

People have all sorts of goals for their children. For their child to have a certain career. For their child to reach certain achievements. For their child to have a safe and loving environment. For their child to have all the things they never had as a childhood. Some parents simply want to ensure their children have a childhood, instead of being forced into too many responsibilities too quickly.

My goal is a little different though. To be honest, I really had not thought about my goal as a parent until talking with some friends whose oldest child is going to college this fall. They said–and I’m paraphrasing here–their goal was to develop their children into self-sufficient, independent adults.

It’s such a simple thing really. Parenting philosophies abound today ranging from extremely regimented to extremely lax–or even creating a regimented system of lax ideas! But it seems obvious to me that childhood is by its very nature preparation for the rest of life, and I can’t believe I had never thought of it in such simple terms until that conversation.

In fact, I have adopted that as my own goal as well–I want Sam to be able to cook, wash his own laundry, clean up after himself, teach himself new things, think critically and make up his own mind on issues, work hard, and create a meaningful and happy life for himself. To be sure I want all those other things too–like a happy childhood–but I have an achievable end-goal in mind.

Don’t worry, Sam isn’t forced into cooking 5-course dinners for us!

I don’t know if it would be beneficial for everyone to think through their goal as a parent, but I think it has for me. It’s certainly shaping the way I think about Sam and what I should and should not be doing for him and with him. Have you thought about your parenting goals? If so, what are they, and have they been successful and/or helpful to you as a parent?

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The Importance of Reading to Children

You all know I am passionate about childhood literacy, so much so that I am helping to start Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in our home town. However, I want to talk a little today about why childhood literacy is so important.

Here are some frightening statistics for you: Two thirds of children who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. 37% of children enter Kindergarten without the skills necessary for lifetime learning. Or, the one that’s most disturbing to me, The US is the only nation out of 20 OECD free-market countries where the current generation is less well educated than the previous.

This is not acceptable. This is not how any nation in the world should be, and we need to take steps to reverse these trends. Fortunately, reading to young children, making books freely and easily available to them, and encouraging them to be life-long readers can make a huge difference in their lives!

Let’s look at some other studies too that show the value of reading to young children: A study of children aged 3-5 who were read to at least 3 times a week revealed that these children were two times more likely to recognize all letters, two times more likely to have word-sight recognition, and two times more likely to understand words in context. Creating a steady stream of new, age appropriate books has been shown to nearly triple interest in reading within months. The most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to print.

Of course, maybe the US Department of Education says it best:

If daily reading begins in infancy, by the time the child is 5 years old, he or she has been fed roughly 900 hours of brain food! Reduce that experience to just 30 minutes a week, and the child’s hungry mind loses 770 hours of nursery rhymes, fairy tales and stories. A kindergarten student who has not been read to could enter school with less than 60 hours of literacy nutrition. No teacher, no matter how talented, can make up for those lost hours of mental nourishment. (USDOE, 1999)

How can anyone make up for it? Read to your children. Support childhood literacy programs in your community. Make a difference in the lives of children today.

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Planning Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

It’s been a while since I last talked about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a fantastic non-profit dedicated to developing childhood literacy by giving children under 5 age-appropriate books at no cost to the children or their families. If you remember, I am working with a group to begin an affiliate in our county in Kentucky, and I wanted to give you all an update.

This project began close to a year ago, when my wife, Emily, and I were talking with someone at church who also happens to work as an early education professor at the local community college. She asked if I would be interested in working with her on a literacy-based event, and I mentioned to her that I was interested in starting the Imagination Library in our community. She had heard of the program before and was excited to bring it to our town as well, but none of us were ready to jump in with both feet yet, since we were still expecting Samuel and in the middle of a school semester.

So, about six months later, we began talking about this again and pulled the children’s librarian at our local public library into the loop, and we began planning in earnest. Our public library’s foundation agreed to be our “champion”–the non-profit entity that officially backs the program–and we began to talk to local business people and other community oriented groups to see who would be interested in serving on our board and donating funds.

This has been tremendously successful, and we even discovered that one of our local rotary clubs was already working on starting the program themselves! We quickly and happily joined forces and funds and we are now planning a kick-off event for May, when we begin enrollment.

We have a great deal of support from our local public library, rotary clubs, and chamber of commerce, plus we have begun talking to local businesses and government officials to continue raising funds and awareness of the program. I tell you this partly because I am so excited about our prospects and how this has progressed so quickly, but also to encourage you to become involved in your own local affiliate, or found one yourself. This is not terribly hard. People get excited about the program, in part because it’s so great on it’s own terms, but also because it’s an easy sell: Give kids books.

Here in southern Kentucky, we’re excited about what we’re doing, and I guarantee that people will be/are excited about in your area too. Let me know if you have any questions by commenting below, and I encourage you to share literacy with the children in your life today.

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In keeping with the series on light psychology I’ve been doing, I spent some time considering the value of music recently. The concept that music is good for babies isn’t a new one. We’ve all heard about the studies showing that classical music has a positive effect on children–even if we know now that those studies had some major flaws. However, a more recent study has demonstrated the value of musical instruction even in very young children.

It was no mistake that one of my earliest posts was a review of a music album. Music is universal and one of the oldest activities humans do–maybe that’s why it’s unsurprising that children love music so much. Sam is no exception! He loves hearing music at church, singing songs at home, listening to CDs in the car. Recently, a friend came to our house and played guitar for a while, which he adored!

Music is useful for so many different things–relaxation, excitement, catharsis, and much more. However, right now I’m most interested in the educational properties of music. I remember as a child learning many things through music. The alphabet, my home address and phone number, aspects of safety, and more were all taught to me through music; through songs that I still remember and can sing.

I fully plan on teaching Sam many of the same songs that my parents used to teach me valuable things, but I also intend to make sure he receives music lessons–and I might even join him. I have wished for years that I could play a musical instrument, something I wish I had not resisted when I was given music lessons in childhood.

I think we already bond through music. We enjoy singing together, and I hope we will continue to do so. Music fills a void in us. Fred Rogers, a major hero of mine, says this:

Music is the one art we all have inside. We may not be able to play an instrument, but we can sing along or clap or tap our feet. Have you ever seen a baby bouncing up and down in the crib in time to some music? When you think of it, some of that baby’s first messages from his or her parents may have been lullabies, or at least the music of their speaking voices. All of us have had the experience of hearing a tune from childhood and having that melody evoke a memory or a feeling. The music we hear early on tends to stay with us all our lives.

Share some music with your child, and give them a song for the rest of their lives.

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As I explained in one of my first posts, Fred Rogers is one of my heroes. However, believe it or not, Dolly Parton is another hero of mine. Don’t get me wrong now, it’s not for her music (somehow I grew up in the south and never gained an appreciation for country music), it’s for her business savvy, and above all, her philanthropy.Dolly Parton reading "The Little Engine That Could"

I grew up in Jefferson County TN, right next door to Dolly’s home of Sevier County. Because of my close proximity, I became aware of her childhood literacy project, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (hence the title of the post, DPIL) shortly after it was created in 1996. Although I was far too old to be a part of the program, my younger sister received a free, age-appropriate book once per month delivered to our house absolutely free, thanks to DPIL and the Jefferson County local affiliate, until she turned five and grew too old for the program.

Fast-forward about ten years and DPIL had grown far beyond Sevier County and a few other surrounding counties–every county in Tennessee had a local affiliate, West Virginia and Alaska were in the process of developing state-wide programs of their own, affiliates were located all over the US, and had even spread to Canada and the United Kingdom, totaling over 1,200 local affiliates (each affiliate covering a town, school district, county, or other comparatively small area) in all.

Additionally, a couple of years ago I found myself working in a job where part of my responsibilities were to oversee the day-to-day operations of a county affiliate in another part of Tennessee. This included promotion of the program, managing the database, answering questions from parents, and a number of other administrative tasks. I spent over a year doing this on a regular basis, learning the ins and outs of the system and some of the program’s failings and successes. Because of this experience, I am a HUGE supporter of DPIL, and I try to tell people about it if I can.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a great program, and if you have children under five right now, I encourage you to stop reading this post, go to www.imaginationlibrary.com, and see whether you have a local affiliate and sign up your child.

Unfortunately, that’s not an option for me–and more significantly, for Samuel–in our current town. There is no local affiliate for us. Because of that, Samuel’s mom and I are working on starting a new affiliate for our county in Kentucky. I know, I probably have too much on my plate already, but this is too important to just hope that it will happen thanks to someone else’s work. I have the means, the time, and the ability to start the program rolling, and we are starting to do that. Last week we had a small planning committee meeting to start hammering out some concrete steps we can take to start the program, and I am encouraged and excited about the possibilities.

Don’t worry, I won’t leave you out of the loop! I think it will be interesting to chronicle the start of the program in our town, and I hope it is interesting for you to read about, and maybe even inspiring for your own life. If your town doesn’t currently have the Imagination Library, why not start it yourself? I’m always happy to answer questions, and hopefully I can help you figure out the next steps to take. Keep an eye on this space, and be sure to check out the “Imagination Library” category and tag on Mommy Is At Work for future information on the project.

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4 Things I Learned About Parenting From Milligan College

This weekend we’re all heading out to “Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains” to visit Sam’s grandparents and attend homecoming at Milligan College, our alma mater. Thinking about Milligan reminds me not only of academic subjects, friends, and the good times I had there, but also the life lessons I learned without even realizing it. Since I spent 4 years at Milligan, here are 4 lessons about parenting I learned at Milligan, even though I didn’t know I was learning about parenting and wouldn’t become a parent for years after graduating.

1. Leadership is service

Milligan’s classic catchphrase, “Servant Leadership”, was incredibly well demonstrated to me during my time there. I can’t think of a faculty or staff member who did not live up to their responsibility to lead students through their service to students. Additionally, I am proud to say I was a member of the Institute for Servant Leadership and participated in a number of different service projects, including playing a leading role in some.

Furthermore, I learned how to be a leader during my time at Milligan. Thanks to the opportunity to direct two one-act plays, edit the Phoenix my senior year, and serve as the president of Sigma Tau Delta (including organizing not only public poetry readings, but also a public reading of literary criticism), I learned through hands-on experience what it takes to be a leader.

In some ways, parenting might be best described as servant leadership. I’m not sure there is any better way of describing the actions of a servant than by discussing what I do as a parent on a daily basis: I feed, clean, and care for Sam, since he is incapable of doing any of that on his own. However, I also have to provide leadership for him by putting others’ needs first: his needs, his mom’s needs, and what is best for our family and community. Milligan taught me how to do that.

2. Life is incredibly interconnected

Humanities. A word that can still instill fear in the hearts of alumni everywhere, conjuring images of blue books and all night cramming sessions. I have to say that I loved Humanities and learned a lot from those four semesters beyond the Praxitelean Curve or Pascal’s Pensees. I learned that it is impossible to separate the world into neat little boxes of literature, science, history, art, theatre, philosophy, music, or architecture. The world is messy. The scientific discoveries of the Renaissance directly influenced the art of the time and it is impossible to act otherwise, even though it is tempting to act as if science and art are diametric opposites, along with “left-brained” and “right-brained” people.

Like I learned in Humanities, parenting is something that suffuses every part of your being. It’s not a job to be picked up and put down, because even when you are away from your child, you still think about him and act with him in mind. And when I am with Samuel, I have learned that everything I do with him influences how we interact. Parenting is just as messy as the rest of the world, although that burp cloth I’ve been using might be the messiest thing of all.

3. Mentors can teach you a lot

Like I said in point 1, Milligan is full of wonderful people. I’m not sure you can graduate without making a deep connection to at least one faculty or staff person. I was blessed to have a number of people who cared deeply about me and my success, and I learned a lot more than how to evaluate an academic source for a research paper or the intricacies of a properly diagrammed sentence. I got to watch these people live their lives in ways I wanted to live my own life and I got to talk with them about problems in my own life and figure out how to help solve them.

However, some of the most valuable things I learned were how to treat my own wife and children. How to love, serve them, and lift them up. How to deal with the pressures and injustices of the world. How to create and fulfill goals for my family, regardless of how big or small those may be. Thanks to Milligan College, I saw love and parenting in action, and I was able to learn how to do that myself.

4. You can learn a lot from different people

Yet another seminal Milligan experience is Christ & Culture, the capstone course that everyone has to take before they can graduate. One of the final assignments in that class is to spend some time with people “different from yourself”, because of how easy it is to lose sight of how the rest of the world views life.

Ever since then, I have consciously tried to be sure I look at life from others’ perspectives. It tends to teach you not only about the rest of the world or new things, but also a great deal about yourself. This has been invaluable in my life and parenting so far, by helping me determine what works and what doesn’t, and what is good for my family and what is not–and to my surprise, those answers have not always been what I anticipated before hand!

You can learn a lot from people that you hope to emulate, as I mentioned in point 3. But it is just as important to realize that we all have so much to learn even from people we may have no intention to emulate at all. Parenting is no exception! I have loved learning how different cultures, and even different American subcultures, choose to parent their children. However, I might have never chosen to make a conscious effort to think critically about the world if I had not been shown how.

You know, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t include this bonus lesson I learned from Milligan.

5. Everything’s better with a good chase

I studied Theatre while I was at Milligan, including spending two semesters touring local schools as part of the Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) class. One thing Prof. Major always emphasized was how much kids love a good chase scene, and I don’t remember ever seeing a TYA performance (or being in one) without a chase.

I may not be doing much chasing yet, since Sam hasn’t learned to crawl, let alone walk or run, but I have no doubt it will be happening every day soon enough. I’ll have to be sure to join in the chase and give our cat–whom I am sure will be chased by Samuel far more frequently than he wants to be chased–a break every now and then.

How about you? What lessons about parenting have you learned when you didn’t expect them?

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